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Buddhadharma : Summer 2010
it is crucial to develop an intentional stance on the famous eight heavy rules, the provisions that institute patriarchy in Buddhist monasticism and upon which the Buddha supposedly insisted before granting women permission to take ordination. An explicit position on the status of these eight provisions today needs to be articulated publicly. Leaders of the Buddhist sangha—male and female alike—need to address and acknowledge them clearly, and specify how they are to be handled in the twenty-first century. The contingencies of our current world context require the formation of such an intentional position. Some in the current Buddhist sangha, in Asia as well as the West, would like to disavow the eight heavy rules alto- gether. Recall, they require the unconditional deference by all nuns to all monks, regardless of merit or seniority; they call for the supervision of nuns’ living arrangements and ritual procedures by monks; and they prohibit nuns from reviling or admonishing monks, while explicitly permit- ting monks to admonish nuns. The eight heavy rules provi- sion is a key part in the defining story of women’s original acceptance into the Buddhist monastic order. While this enshrinement of patriarchy in the rules of bhikshunis is unfortunate and damaging, it poses a recalci- trant problem. We cannot easily write it out of the Vinaya. Not only is the story included in all versions of the Vinaya, but all of the eight provisions save one have been incor- porated into the pratimoksha governing the nuns’ rules of behavior and punishments for their infractions. They are intricately woven into monastic ritual and tradition; sim- ply to wipe them out would entail so many changes that it might be difficult to claim that the new female order was indeed the same as the bhikshuni tradition known from his- torical Buddhism. A similar question has long been debated in other religions, and especially in Christianity: is there a way to accommodate and reinterpret elements of one’s tradition that are patriarchal and/or androcentric, if not misogynist, or is it necessary to change the tradition radi- cally, or even abandon it entirely? This complex debate is likely to develop among Buddhists too, unfolding gradu- ally with different ramifications in different contexts. But that Was then, this is noW the eight heavy rules are the result of historical and social circumstances, explains Buddhist scholar Janet Gyatso—and times have changed. equal status is critical, not only for those directly affected but also for the future of Buddhism in the West. ➤ photo massimo sTrazzeri ➤